Testing Tehran

Unless Tehran denies genocidal intentions, a preemptive strike may be Israel's only answer.

The Iranian threat cartoon (photo credit: Ronny Gordon)
The Iranian threat cartoon
(photo credit: Ronny Gordon)
While the Iranians expend supreme effort to escape western sanctions and rescue their crumbling economy, they simultaneously assure the world that their nuclear program is purely civilian, that their particular brand of Islam is peaceful and that their regional ambitions are tame. Therefore, they argue, the western siege should be lifted. Western powers are inclined to trust the Iranian assurances, especially if the ayatollahs are prepared to sign papers  to that effect, all the while allowing Iranians more time to realize their military nuclear schemes.
The Europeans, for the most part, are inclined to rekindle the Munich spirit of the 1930's as long as they do not have to mobilize their civilians’ fading support for fighting, as exemplified by their hurried retreat from Iraq and scramble to depart from Afghanistan even before the American’s planned exit in 2014.  This is essentially an announcement to the Taliban and their allies that they must only wait NATO out in order to pick the ripe fruit of their Muslim emirate straight from their lap. America is more resolute, but in this election year even American resilience is brittle.
Israel stands, then, as the only entity determined to declare that the emperor is naked and to posit a credible option of attacking the Iranian nuclear set-up before it becomes operational. Hoping to turn public opinion in its favor, Israel cannot count on the new French Socialist president, or on a British government which released the murderer of  Lockerbie, or on an American president who went to prostrate before the Saudi king and now desperately wants to get reelected. Israel should provide a litmus test that is independent of all other countries, and challenge the UN and world public opinion by examining Tehran's intentions. The siege will be lifted and the sanctions eased only if they pass the test.
For years now, in connection with their nuclear program, the Iranians have declared that their goal is wiping Israel off the map. This is the occasion to put them to the test by demanding the following of them: If you have indeed embraced peaceful designs, then you must proclaim that you desist from your schemes and no longer seek to eliminate Israel. They must be told that a member of the UN cannot threaten another with annihilation while the rest of the world watches, and that the only way to demonstrate the innocence of their nuclear program is to denounce any aggression, now or in the future.
In a normal world, Israel would have put forward such a demand years ago, instead of letting this absurdity prevail, but the country has not raised hell and has refrained from  bringing this issue to the forefront, in spite of the Iranian top brass’ reconfirmation that they are pursuing their goal. Every house built by Israel in Jerusalem is the subject of "grave concern" by the Secretary Generals of the UN and NATO and the chanceries of America and Europe, yet the existence of an entire nation is threatened, the menace of the genocide of a whole people is proclaimed, the spirit of Munich prevails.
Public opinions can be mobilized, even when cynical, Munich-stricken governments  pretend not to have seen or heard anything. Israel must be the one to explain this to the world since it is the only country that Iran directly threatens with annihilation, and as such it is within Israel’s rights to defend itself by striking at the source of the threat before it becomes operative. Unless, of course, the regime in Tehran denies its genocidal intentions. Such a move would go a long way towards quelling the systematic incitement of the Iranian population by the authorities. If it does not, it will be deserving of the preemptive strike against it.
The writer is a professor of Islamic, Middle Eastern andChinese history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a member of thesteering committee of the Ariel Center for Policy Research.